What exactly is a worldview? James Sire provides a classic definition: “A worldview is a set of presuppositions (assumptions which may be true, partially true, or entirely false) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic makeup of our world.” Ronald Nash summarizes: “A worldview, then, is a conceptual scheme that contains our fundamental beliefs; it is also the means by which we interpret and judge reality.” As thinking beings, every individual has a worldview. Even if a person is unconscious of it, he or she has certain assumptions and beliefs which provide the necessary framework for one to think, reason, and evaluate.
Worldviews vary from person to person. However, their common core has been somewhat elusive to determine. Different philosophers, theologians, and apologists construct the basic elements of a worldview in various ways. Sire maintains that a worldview comes from answers to seven questions: 1) What is prime reality—the really real? 2) What is the nature of external reality, that is, the world around us? 3) What is a human being? 4) What happens to a person at death? 5) Why is it possible to know anything at all? 6) How do we know what is right and wrong? and 7) What is the meaning of human history? Nash claims that worldviews contain at least five clusters of beliefs, what one believes about: 1) God, 2) metaphysics or ultimate reality, 3) epistemology or knowledge, 4) ethics, and 5) human nature.
As valuable as these kinds of schemes are, Christians will more properly conceptualize a worldview by turning to God’s revelation in Scripture. In the Bible, God reveals himself and his truth through history. The Bible reveals an overarching story of redemption. Encapsulating all of reality, this story establishes the core of the Christian worldview. Therefore, a worldview is essentially a metanarrative, an all-encompassing story about all of reality. With this in mind, Pearcey includes three basic elements in a worldview: 1) creation, 2) fall, and 3) redemption. These fundamentals bring us closer to a clear understanding of the components of a worldview, but Reformed theologians often include four elements in the biblical history of redemption: 1) creation, 2) fall, 3) redemption, and 4) restoration. While admitting her background in studying Dutch Reformed thinkers, Pearcey seems to collapse redemption and restoration into one category. I believe this is unnecessary and potentially problematic. Given the eschatological tension with which we currently live in through this age, it remains important to distinguish between redemption and restoration, the “already” and the “not yet” of God’s redemptive plan.
Therefore, a worldview consists of four fundamental characteristics: Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration. This understanding is not opposed to other worldview systems—it can actually complement them well. For example, Sire’s questions all fall within these four areas (sometimes in multiple categories): Creation includes questions 1-3 and 5-6; the Fall includes questions 3 and 6; redemption includes questions 4 and 6; and restoration includes questions 4, 6, and 7. Nash’s four clusters can also be reconfigured within this biblical framework. In any case, Scripture provides us with the structure we need to understand the composition of worldviews.
How do Christians apply these insights when engaging our culture? Lord willing, I'll answer this practical question tomorrow.
Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2004), 23. Emphasis in original.
James W. Sire, The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog, 3rd ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997), 16.
Ronald H. Nash, Life’s Ultimate Questions: An Introduction to Philosophy (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999), 14.